Whatever the Federal Communications Commission decides about its indecency regulations, the last word should go to WAMU, American University’s NPR affiliate in Washington, D.C. The signal has responded to the FCC’s call for comments on remaking its rules, following the Supreme Court’s smackdown on several actions punishing broadcasters for airing “fleeting expletives” (basically dirty talk said on the fly).
WAMU says it supports NPR‘s position on the question. NPR wants the FCC to get tough on radio stations only in “egregious” instances (ergo, an “egregious cases” policy), not just when anybody goes off for a second or two in a moment of passion.
Ditto, says WAMU:
While WAMU does not typically broadcast content which would subject it to particularly harsh indecency scrutiny by the Commission, it is nonetheless burdened by overly vigorous enforcement of indecency regulations. WAMU does not seek to offend its listeners, but it does deal with important issues which can give rise to difficult, often heated, discussions. Particularly in the case of live news affairs programming, but also in discussion programming, WAMU cannot control every word uttered within range of its microphones. Commission regulation which can target even unintentional and spontaneous uses of profane or indecent language and subject WAMU to potential forfeitures and other administrative sanctions is a threat which casts a cloud of concern over program producers.
It is not just penalties for inadvertent profanity which hang over the head of WAMU under the current policy. Even when presenting a prerecorded story, WAMU may believe that potentially indecent audio best illustrates an important element of an event. WAMU’s goal is always to provide listeners with the most accurate possible representation of reality, not content sanitized out of fear of government sanctions. Responsible licensees, not governmental officials, should be making content judgment calls that WAMU makes every day.
Equally sane comments to the FCC have been submitted by WBUR in Boston and College Broadcasters Inc. The formal deadline for filing remarks is August 2, but it wouldn’t kill anybody if the FCC received a few more commentaries as good as the above over the next few weeks. They can be filed electronically on the FCC website here and should include reference to GN Docket No. 13-86.